San Francisco Examiner
Hard-won voting rights always in
By Megan Cornish
Between backyard barbecues and frolics in the sprinkler, it's time
to celebrate Women's Rights Day, commemorating Aug. 26, 1920, when
U.S. women finally won the right to vote. This event is no small
matter, since the struggle dates from the early 1800s movement to
abolish slavery, and the right was won a full 50 years after African
American men won the vote. Nevertheless, in light of the 2000
presidential election, this Women's Rights Day is a good time not
only to evaluate what we've won, but also to ponder the stark
limitations on this much-vaunted right -- and to consider what we
can do about it.
citizens now have the right to vote, just how much is that worth?
If you are
black, you may just find that even after registering, your name
doesn't appear on voting rolls. Or you may find that the voting
machines in your neighborhood are antiquated, polling places are
scarce and hours are truncated, so that the actual opportunity to
vote is limited. This is a historic injustice that has been
happening ever since black men and women won the right to suffrage.
rights of African Americans are violated because corporate America
needs to keep them second-class citizens and block their historic
leadership of civil rights, labor and social struggles. The system
depends on censoring oppressed people -- especially in this era of
poverty, homelessness, discrimination, incarceration and
environmental destruction, where conditions are ripe for rebellion.
By denying blacks, Haitians, Jews, immigrants and the poor the right
to elect their representatives, the disenfranchised are kept
our race or sex, we found out last election that the highest court
is full of venal politicians who blandly overturned the Constitution
in order to deny the vote to those who threaten the machine
everyone had access to the ballot, and the Supreme Court didn't
interfere with vote recounts, our indirect presidential election
system periodically allows the loser to hold office! It is no
accident that this holdover from the slavery era gives added weight
to Southern electors.
important, even if "one person, one vote" were a reality, the ugly
fact is that Americans aren't given a democratic choice of
candidates. To keep profits up, Wall Street ensures that only
candidates friendly to its interests are put in office. Both the
Democrats and the Republicans answer to big money -- end of story.
The deck is
stacked against minor parties that cannot compete with the
billionaire clubs and that face stiff restrictions that produce an
unlevel playing field. If we don't break from the two-party system,
we can't have democracy.
electoral process must be reformed. Here are some ways to open it
laws that restrict ballot access for minor parties. Lower thresholds
for obtaining ballot status.
public campaign financing for all candidates who have the minimum
voter support. Open up TV debates to all candidates. Why should
Democrats and Republicans be able to buy their way into office?
winner-take-all legislative elections with proportional
representation. That way, minor parties that get a significant
fraction of the vote would be able to represent their constituency.
instant runoff voting. By ranking each candidate, with first-choice
votes counting the most, voters' ballots for minority candidates
count, without splitting the progressive vote.
Standardize voting equipment. No more second-class treatment of
poor, elderly and people-of-color voters.
felons and ex-felons the right to vote. Allow non-citizens to vote
after completing a period of residency.
7. Dump the
Electoral College. Let voters elect the president directly.
So, as we
bask in the last days of summer, let's celebrate the achievement of
(relatively) universal voting rights by fighting for a vote that is
worth something -- and that gives us a real political voice.
Cornish is a tradeswoman, author, and member of Radical Women, a
socialist feminist organization immersed in the fight against
racism, sexism, homophobia, and labor exploitation. Megan can be
reached at [email protected].
Celebrate Women's Rights Day on Saturday, Aug. 25, 7:30 p.m.
at "Fiery Feminist Freedomfest 2," featuring Veronica Black, Eighth
Wonder, Pam Pam, Merle Woo and Nellie Wong. The event will be held
at the Women's Building, 3543 18th St., San Francisco. Call (415)
864-1278 for information.